I almost died of embarrassment. Despite crippling abdominal pain and blood gushing from my body, I didn’t go see a doctor. I couldn’t bring myself to do it because the problems were down there, in that place we don’t talk about . . . in the ass.
Like millions of Americans, I did a lousy job of taking care of myself. I had an excellent health-care plan and made my children get yearly checkups, but I always rationalized away my pain and disturbing discharges. I went to see the doctor only when dragged.
I was shy. I was embarrassed about my body. And I didn’t want strangers touching me, especially there.
I had to get over that when my wife force-marched me to my ten-year-overdue colonoscopy. Turns out I had cancer — an unattractive cancer, a cancer no one talks about: rectal cancer. I couldn’t even bring myself to say it for a long time, instead telling friends I had colon or colorectal cancer.
I had to learn to get over that shyness — fast. You can’t be bashful when you have a tumor in the ass. You must deal with it.
This is my cautionary tale. I never took care of myself. If I was sick, I didn’t want to know what was wrong. Ignorance was my bliss.
When I finally had a colonoscopy, the doctor found a tumor. There was no way to rationalize that away. As a father of seven, including three little boys, I realized I had to get over my embarrassment about my body and my reluctance to take care of myself. I was living for others.
We always hear of people “fighting cancer” or “battling cancer.” As I began treatment, I was poked, prodded, tattooed, zapped and cut. I wasn’t fighting; I was a passive participant in my care.
But there was one thing I could control: my attitude.
Asshole: A Memoir tells of my two years dealing with cancer and the years of surgery that followed. Come along for the ride through more than a dozen surgeries. But I hope this memoir also helps readers understand the process of cancer treatment, including what to do to keep the family from freaking out. My little boys learned of my diagnosis over Christmas and had to live with this new, bathrobed dad lumbering around, not doing the things dads are supposed to do.
It’s not just a disease that attacks your body. It attacks everything about your life — your relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Sometimes, I thought I should remind people my cancer wasn’t contagious — even if we rubbed our butts together. Still, some people stayed away as if I carried the Black Death.
So here’s how I navigated these weird waters.
Cancer. All I could do was laugh about it. And try to get my friends and family to find the humor in the situation. Some did and some didn’t.
Ass cancer. How appropriate for me. I had a long history as that other kind of asshole, but that was something I’d been working so hard to change. I considered myself a recovering asshole, but when I was diagnosed, I figured this was one of God’s little ironies.
Responding to cancer with humor kept me in the frame of mind I needed to withstand daily chemotherapy and radiation, four surgeries in ten months, and the sudden realization that I could be dead sooner than I’d anticipated.
As a wise man once said, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” When you’re strapped to a table for daily radiation treatments, semi-nude and fully vulnerable, what else can you do?
Once we realize life is a ridiculous spectacle out of our control, we learn to laugh. It’s our best defense.